Friday, November 23, 2007

Learning and Pleasure

Certainly, learning can be made an erotic, highly pleasurable activity. Now, that a teach should be incapable of revealing this, that his job should virtually consist of showing how unpleasant, sad, dull and unerotic learning is--to me, this is an incredible achievement. But it is an achievement that certainly has its raison d'etre. We need to know why our society considers it so important to show that learning is something sad; maybe it's because of the number of people who are excluded from it. Imagine what it would be like if people were crazy about learning the way they are about sex. They would knock each other over in a rush to get into school. Michel Foucault
Foucault's answer to an interviewers question made me smile this morning. What a wonderful image...people pushing, shoving, fighting to learn something. But no, my students never rushed to school eager for learning. They trudged in, heads down, tired, grumpy, bored before anything even got started. They were definitely much more excited about sex then they were about learning. For golden year, I got them excited. I was excited. It was contagious. But then the higher powers forced me back to drudgery. Excitement, pleasure is dangerous when you're trying to hold people down. And that's really why I had to stop teaching. I couldn't be a part of that kind of system anymore.

And I think Foucault is right on with this assessment.No one is going to continue on when they find learning so dull and boring. And not only that but what happens if learning becomes pleasurable. What kinds of discourses will be unmasked? In my experience, many. Discovering that learning was an exciting, pleasurable, freeing was a shock to me. I didn't know that learning could move me in such a physical way. But even with this knowledge there is a sense of loss always on the horizon. I still have to play within a system based on keeping people out. And yes I understand all the crap about standards but what is a standard when it excludes those who don't get a high enough fucking number on a test? Excludes someone who finds learning to be one of the finest pleasure?

In the same interview, Foucault says
"The degree simply serves to create a kind of market value for knowledge, to make those who don't have degrees feel they have no right to knowledge, are not capable of knowledge. Everyone who gets a degree knows perfectly well it's useless, it has no content, it's empty. But those who don't have degrees are the ones who set great store by them. Degrees are precisely for those that don't have them."
He acknowledges that his degrees have gotten him to where he is now but I think he offers a point to be taken here. All too often we assume that those who hold degrees hold knowledge. Is this necessarily true? And does this knowledge constitute all knowledge? I think too often, and I am guilty of this, I make these kind of assumptions about knowledge. It reminds me in a way of the video E posted earlier today. I see the degree as the carrot on the stick. Sometimes it gets in the way of the pleasure. I'm going to write that first quote and hang it up in my office as a reminder.

Knowledge as pleasure. Like sex. Something I look forward to each day. Something I savor. Something that rocks my world, shatters my universe, fragments my being. This is the way I want to know.


Lolabola said...

What a great post!

Ginger said...


The Bear Maiden said...

Hey, girlie! Been a minute.

But you know, I think you should look again at teaching... look for other atmospheres. The greatest teachers I ever had were the ones who's enthusiasm was palpable. My favorite teacher in all the world is older than dirt, and though they keep trying to force him to quite because he's "old", he teaches because he loves it. And he just doesn't tell anyone how old he is. I know that I'm blessed that my kid goes to a school where teachers are NOT held back. Encouraged, and they, too, have that palpable excitement about learning and about watching their student's learn.

Sandunga said...

"knowledgde as pleasure. like sex" it´s true, it get´s you adictive too. don´t give up in teaching, is a very rewarding and noble work, but is also activity of despair and looneliness, the most of the stressfull jobs, along with beeing a doctor and a wall street salesperson, but there is something there that makes u keeping on doing it, i guess...
kisses, and congrats for your thesis!!!

Ginger said...

I won't even give up on teaching...just teaching where I was did not afford me the opportunity to do what I needed to do as a teacher. I also think teaching at the college level gives me more freedom, and I like the age level a lot better:P